Roundtable Discussion on "The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory" by Andrew Bacevich

Summary of Study

Bottom line: This symposium review of "The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory" by Andrew Bacevich generally agrees with the author's thesis that American foreign policy overstretched in the aftermath of the Cold War and that Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" thesis led American policymakers down a triumphant and ultimately misguided path. The book and reviewers criticize the American elite who tried to dominate the world instead of providing for people at home.

The symposium includes reviews by the following scholars:

  • Emma Ashford - Cato Institute: Ashford argues that Bacevich makes a compelling case that Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were merely different versions of the same liberal internationalist attempt to reshape the world in America’s image. The rise of President Trump is an inevitable populist domestic backlash against globalization and military adventurism overseas. Ashford argues, "The book makes a persuasive and easy-to-follow argument that something went terribly wrong with American politics in the post-Cold War period."
  • Lloyd C. Gardner - Rutgers University: Gardner agrees with Bacevich's claim that American elites found the "End of History" argument persuasive because it was useful and allowed them to forget the lessons of Vietnam. After the Cold War, Gardner points out, Vietnam lost its power as a cautionary tale. Gardner finds effective Bacevich's use of framing his argument about the disintegration of national purpose around the post-war film "The Best Years of Our Lives," which follows three veterans of the Second World War and their difficulties in adjusting to civilian life.
  • Robert J. Lieber - Georgetown University: Lieber is critical of Bacevich's claim that the country is “coming apart at the seams" when he simultaneously accepts that during the Trump presidency, “the basic fabric of American life emerged largely intact.” According to Lieber, Bacevich's "central argument is that, with the end of the Cold War, in an era of unprecedented U.S. ascendency, an 'intoxicated elite' led the United States on a disastrous course."
  • Andrew Bacevich - President of the Quincy Institute: Bacevich then responds to the reviewers by restating his original thesis: "How in the course of a mere quarter-century did the United States go from assumed-to-be-perpetual global supremacy to internal division, disarray, and—I hesitate to use the term—decline." He criticizes the virtual unanimity among today's foreign policy establishment that rather than focusing on defense, U.S. foreign policy should continue to maintain hundreds of foreign bases, defend countries that can defend themselves, intervene frequently, and spend hundreds of billions of dollars on "defense" without interest in how effectively these dollars are being used. 

Read the full roundtable HERE